Growing up in Ithaca, New York, I lived with as many as three Australian Shepherds at a time. My mother trains the breed for competition in a sprint-speed sport known as dog agility, so it was a common weekend activity for my family to head out to some remote field to exercise the pack. The dogs, which are known for their ferocious stamina, would spend hours chasing whatever toy projectile we could throw furthest.
Many serious trainers like my mother take dog ownership into the athletic realm, competing in activities as diverse as sheep herding and dock diving. But even for people who are just looking to get into shape, the idea of exercising alongside a dog can be appealing. The internet is replete with health guides, lifestyle columns, and expert advice blogs trumpeting the benefits of dog ownership for health. As these sources often point out, dogs are great for getting you out the door. They’ll never judge you, and the amount of physical activity they need to stay trim and cardiovascularly strong is around the same for humans. Getting one seems like a fitness win-win.
Dogs are thought to have been fully domesticated tens of thousands of years ago, so the case could be made that humans and dogs have been working (and working out) together for millennia. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean those wind sprints in the park after work are always a boon for dogs, even if they’re great for dog owners. Many vets caution that certain dogs don’t have the physique or the drive to endure a serious workout, and owners’ own fitness obsessions are wearing some dogs out.